Governor seeks to replace independent Ocean Rangers cruise ship monitors with state-run inspections

Alaska’s Ocean Rangers had been contractors hired by Crowley Marine. (Jacob Resneck/CoastAlaska)

Lawmakers have received an updated proposal from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to replace independent cruise ship monitors with a state-run inspection regime.

Those independent monitors — called Ocean Rangers — are part of a program created by a 2006 ballot initiative that Alaska voters passed by a 4 percent margin. The governor used his line-item veto last year to block the program’s industry funding. That effectively canceled the program for this year’s cruise season.

The details of the state’s new plan are laid out in House Bill 74. It includes supplemental funding for staff with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct shoreside inspections this season. It also proposes to use the cruise industry revenue that used to pay for Ocean Rangers to finance upgrades to sewer plants in port communities.

We think there’s an opportunity to actually continue to play the regulatory role that we play with overseeing the cruise ship industry,” DEC Commissioner Jason Brune told CoastAlaska on Tuesday. “But also use some of these funds to actually upgrade the shoreside wastewater treatment facilities which are impacted by cruise visitors.

About half the fees collected by cruise ships under the proposal would be made available to upgrade wastewater plants, many of which operate on EPA waivers because they fail to meet federal standards.

It would offer discounts to ships that voluntarily install electronic monitoring equipment on vessels’ wastewater treatment systems. The agency would add four staff to oversee cruise ships.

That’s compared to the nearly two dozen licensed marine engineers contracted as seasonal Ocean Rangers last year.

The bill is scheduled to be heard again by the House State Affairs committee on Feb. 18.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that in 2006 Alaska Measure 2 did not “pass overwhelmingly” as previously stated, but rather by less than 5 percent.